Nunavut voters want to bring their elders home, is anyone listening?
Lack of regional elder care facilities leave residents in Rankin Inlet wondering when the government will act
It's a common theme for MLA candidates across Nunavut in this year's territorial election: build facilities to keep elders in Nunavut when they are no longer able to care for themselves — or be cared for — at home.
In Rankin Inlet the issue is close to heart. The community of 2,840 people has no long-term elder care facilities. This means elders there or in nearby communities of Whale Cove and Chesterfield Inlet — each with a population of 435 — face the prospect of either having to leave the region, or leave Nunavut entirely, to find room in an elder care home.
Nunavut Votes 2017 | Find all of our election coverage
According to the most recent statistics, there are more than 1,400 people aged over 65 in Nunavut. Between Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove and Chesterfield Inlet, there are 126 people aged 65 or older.
As it stands now, across Nunavut there are just 27 long-term care beds split between Igloolik, Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay. There are additional assisted living facilities in Iqaluit, Baker Lake and Arviat.
Elders must make their way down south for care if there's no space available in any of those facilities.
This has residents in the constituencies of Rankin Inlet North and Rankin Inlet South asking what the government will do to make it possible for elders to stay closer to home during the last years of their lives.
People in Rankin Inlet want to see an elder care facility in the community, and they're asking candidates to finally make it a reality, if they are elected.
"Here in Rankin Inlet people have been pushing to see an elders facility," said 87-year-old Frances Kaput. He lives at home with his wife and son, and points out that an elder care facility, if built with enough foresight, could help alleviate other pressures in the community.
"It would be a great place to stay for medical travellers too. There's many medical travellers scavenging for a place to stay when the weather doesn't cooperate."
He said it's disappointing to see the government able to move so quickly on other matters, like cannabis legislation, while elder care remains an unfulfilled priority.
'We want to see them here'
Rankin Inlet resident Levi Curley explained it concisely.
"Our elders don't want to leave their homes," he said. "We want to see them here."
And some candidates are listening.
Cedric Autut, 41, is a first-time candidate in the constituency of Rankin Inlet North and Chesterfield Inlet. His top priority, he said, is to get an elder care home built in the region.
"In our Inuit culture we ... look after our elders," Autut said. "There's elders being shipped out to an elders facility down south and we'd really like to see an elders facility here."
Cathy Towtongie, candidate for Rankin Inlet Noth/Chesterfield Inlet, also identified building elder care facilities in the region a key issue.
"Elder facilities have to become a reality," she said. "We need to seriously implement — instead of making promises — some of the changes that have to take place at the community level."
Lorne Kusugak, 57, is a former MLA and mayor of Rankin Inlet. He's running in Rankin Inlet South, and like the other candidates, he says the top priority is to "bring the elders home."
"We have a dozen elders who belong in our community that are outside of Rankin Inlet in long term care facilities," Kusagak said.
"The place for them to be is here in Rankin. We need a long-term care facility here now."
For Kusugak, making elder care a priority is a part of making Inuit families strong.
"At some point we have to make family health and wellness higher on the agenda," said Kusugak. "If we had more health and wellness centres … maybe we wouldn't need so much space for correctional centres."
Building elders facilities in Nunavut communities has been on the radar of previous governments. Alexander Sammurtok, the incumbent MLA for Rankin Inlet South spoke out often in favour of getting elder care facilities built in the region, and he continues to carry that flag: "Elders being sent out of Rankin Inlet to other communities and to Ottawa. That is the biggest concern."
But this has not translated into new homes for elders, at least in Rankin Inlet, something elder Kaput has not failed to notice.
"For a long time members [of the legislative assembly] have tried to lobby for an elders facility. And you know what? Nothing. We're not even getting answers from the government," said Kaput, the 87-year-old elder in Rankin Inlet.
Some say Rankin Inlet is not without options.
One idea is to use a former children's group home in town that has been vacant since December 2012, and convert it to a long-term elder care home for the region.
Linda Kopek is one of many in the region who have elder family members living away from home in Ottawa.
She says it would be better if they were spending their final days closer to home, in the land where they were born and lived their lives.
"It's their home, it would be rewarding to see them back in Nunavut," Kopek said in Inuktitut.
"So the candidates running for MLA, [they should] think about that too."